Today is the 25th anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s passing. Her name was Viola Page, and she died on her birthday in 1984 at age 78. Not very old at all, but she had had a hard life.

Grandma was born in the first wave of what became known decades later as “the greatest generation” (Tom Brokaw) and which Strauss and Howe refer to in their taxonomy as “hero,” a classification shared by today’s Millennials (b. 1982-2000). Though she didn’t work in a factory as a “Rosie the Riveter” or go overseas during WWII as a nurse or in some other role open to women at that time, she was indeed a hero.

Stricken with severe arthritis at age 28, Grandma Page nevertheless raised and supported five children—Leslie, Bob, Jimmy, Nancy, and my mom Grace—practically on her own. She became a seamstress, making clothing and doing alterations for wealthy women, working despite the pain in her hands.

Grandma was particularly sturdy, as heroes are, able to make it through anything, whether tragedy, heartache or poverty. But all those things happened even before I was born or when I was quite young. I remember her not so much as especially strong but as especially loving and welcoming. Some of my favorite times as a kid were spent at her big, rambling old house on Madison Street in Albany, GA. The wraparound porch and the big back yard were perfect for me to play on and in. Her pot roast on Sunday, when we always came to visit, was outstanding. (When my friend the late Mark Heard penned his classic tune “Dinner at Grandma’s” when we were in college, I thought of those meals.) Yes, there was no hot running water, and the place was dark and sometimes chilly; it was next to an alley and behind a car dealership. But what does a kid really care about that?

In Grandma’s later years, my late sister Carol Ann and I tried to do what we could to bring comfort to her in her pain. She loved Carol Ann’s singing and my reading, so we made a tape, which Mama still has, I think. On it was the text below, which I also read as both minister and grandson at her graveside. It’s so beautiful and full of hope that I think I would treasure it even without the memory of what it meant to Grandma. But I cannot read it when it comes around in the lectionary or whenever without thinking of her and praying that one day all who are stricken with pain as she was may indeed mount up with wings like eagles.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:27-31).

© 2009 Tom Cheatham